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Randy Glaser (1959 – 1993)


The first person I ever met who I was conscious of having HIV was Randy.  In the Spring of 1993, I walked into his store, Gay Pleasures, looking for a summer job while on college break.  I was interviewed directly by Randy, who was at the time battling respiratory problems, and had several visible KS lesions on his face.  He probably would have been best home in bed taking care of himself instead of trying to run his store.

But this was 1993, and the meds that we have today were not available at that time, and for many it was a choice of waiting to die or fighting to live – Randy was not one to go silently into that good night.

In July 1991, Randy Glaser founded Gay Pleasures which was a testament to his life and drive. For those outside the New York City area, and who may not have been around then, Gay Pleasures was a unique and defiant political and sociological statement that many might say masqueraded as a gay erotic store.  From the hardwood floors, glass and maple wood cases, brass railings, windows removed of black paint and clerks who wore shirt and ties, Randy brought gay erotica out of the closet in NYC.

As New York’s only Gay owned and Operated Erotica store, Randy’s vision was based on the notion of being sick and tired of gay men having to be treated like degenerates simply for wanting to view or purchase erotica or at the very least – to not be ashamed of their sexuality. 

Stocked with one of the largest Gay porn rental clubs (about 4000 titles) original framed artwork from the likes of Bruce of L.A. and Tom of Finland, thousands of slides, individual snapshots, 8 mm films, and back issues of every conceivable gay porn magazine from Honcho to Drummer (and ironically After Dark) Randy created not only a Gay porn warehouse but almost a historical and cultural museum that I personally think rivaled the official cultural displays in most LBGT centers.

I had started in the store as a bag check boy and quickly rose to be a manager.  I worked close with Randy and I can tell you that he was a hard-ass most of the time.  He often yelled at his partner, Vincent, and at his staff…and sometimes his customers too.   The point though was not that Randy was a mean man, but he was a man who seemed to have a frantic urgency that things needed to be accomplished, and accomplished as soon as he thought of it or wanted it; he had little patience for any excuses or delays, or even the luxury of time for niceties and pleasantries … and I suppose that was because he knew he didn’t have much time left himself.

When Randy was in a good mood or had a moment of wanting to talk, he would talk of his times hanging out with certain celebrities, his travels in the world, and above all his own quoted impeccable taste in everything.  There was only twice in that time however that Randy was in an introspective mood, and though never relayed through a sense of self-pity, he would tell me of how he once had long, gorgeous blond hair and the most perfect of features…that was before AIDS and AZT had taken their toll.  Of course, in perfect  Randy style, any sense of vulnerability was always followed with an admonishment (usually in a yelling, angry tone) that I was goofing off and needed to stop wasting his time and start selling more god-damn, top shelf ($59.95+) videos, as the store’s rent wasn't getting paid with me just sitting on my ass.

One of my greatest memories of him, and which really describe him and what he wanted his store to be about best, was working with him on the store window displays.  While other porn stores (he would hate to hear me call it a porn store – he preferred to call it an erotic emporium) would have windows painted black implying that shameful and embarrassing things were happening inside their stores, – Randy delighted (and frightened) customers, and in many cases neighbors, with windows that seemed more in step with at Sachs or Barney’s.

We did seasonal windows for Summer with piles of sand, and beach balls, and a submerged pool of water for the videos to rest on surfboards, To Autumn where we had bales of hay and  Scarecrows, and corn stalks, which one year had amusingly attracted two mice who would spend that month joyously and continuously climbing the corn stalk and jumping into the hay pile – delighting tons of school children who would stop by the window and watch and laugh….and horrifying their respective parents who would catch their children hanging out in front of the store.

My favorite window was Christmas.  It may seem corny or even ridiculous, but to see a gay porn store window decorated with tons of white cotton sprinkled with silver glitter and framed by a combination of white silk and silver Mylar curtains, featuring Sterling Silver stars bought from Tiffany’s  which spun on electrical feeds hanging from tons of white birch branches in the ceiling that also hid white twinkling lights, all of which illuminated a turn of the century Old World Santa purchased from an auction house…well, as ridiculous as it sounds, – It was actually beautiful.  So beautiful, and so out of step of what the world views gay sexuality as that I can’t tell you how many times we would have unsuspecting shoppers who would walk in without really realizing what we sold...and seeing their faces turn crimson or jaws drop.

And that was the essence of what Randy was about.  He challenged views and was not ashamed of himself, or his erotic tastes, and refused to follow some arcane rule book on morality or cultural expectations of what one is suppose to do with their life. 

The Christmas window probably meant the most to me as it was the last window that he and I worked on together.  Randy Glaser died December, 1993. He was 34.


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